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Michigan ag officials on the lookout for grape-killing lanternfly

The spotted lanternfly has black spots on its wings, which are pink and black beneath the spots.
Ben Hasty
MediaNews Group via Getty Images
An adult spotted lanternfly, photographed in Reading, Pennsylvania. Dead lanternflies have been found in Michigan — raising concerns the invasive species could soon appear here. It poses a threat to grapes.

Northern Michigan’s wine industry could face a big threat from a small bug.

The invasive spotted lanternfly is a plant-hopping bug that has the potential to destroy vineyards if it makes its way to the Grand Traverse region.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development announced to the public first sightings of the spotted lanternfly around Michigan. The samples were found in five counties, including Kent, Muskegon, and Kalamazoo counties on the west side of the state.

“We’ve worked with the USDA to determine where the dead insects came from, and to make sure that the pest wasn’t picked up in another spot in the state before it arrived at its final destination,” said invasive species specialist Rob Miller.

The bugs found in Michigan were already dead but experts are treating the sightings as a sign that they could be making their way into the state.

The spotted lanternfly is an invasive species that poses a risk to grape harvests. (Photo provided)
Michigan Department of Agriculture
The spotted lanternfly is an invasive species that poses a risk to grape harvests. (Photo provided)

And they can spread quickly — able to hitch a ride on goods in shipping, or vehicles coming from other parts of the country.

While the bugs pose no physical threat to humans, but they do target grapevines. The spotted lanternfly kills plants by sucking sap from their stems while secreting a sticky substance which causes black mold to flourish, killing the plant.

And in northern lower Michigan’s wine country, even a small infestation of the spotted lanternfly could be devastating to the production of wine and the tourism that wineries bring to the region.

Miller said that there are very few protective measures Michiganders can take against the spotted lanternfly other than just simply being on the lookout for the bugs.

The state is asking anyone who believes they’ve seen a spotted lanternfly to take a photo, note the date, time, and location, and submit it to the agency’s website.

If possible, it’s recommended to keep the lanternfly in a container for identification.

Updated: August 11, 2022 at 3:14 PM EDT
Since this story was published, state agriculture officials confirmed that a small population of living lanternfly have been found in Oakland County, near Detroit.

It's the first confirmed sighting of the bugs, while alive, in Michigan. The earlier sightings were all of dead insects.
Lily Guiney is a an intern at IPR News Radio.